Prepped for Success: Setting Up Your Print Process for Specialty Packaging and Coating Jobs

    Posted by Rob Gladstone

    Jan 5, 2017 2:42:24 PM

    Image of a gorcery store aisle featuring numerous products and packaging label designs.As consumers walk up and down store aisles, they are inundated with tens of thousands of purchase decisions.

    Shopping for laundry detergent? There are dozens of options to choose from. Cereal? There are even more choices. And that’s before a shopper encounters stacks of soup cans, rolls of paper towels, or a fully-stocked beverage aisle.

    With so many alternatives for consumers to buy, how is it possible for a product to stand out among the competition? The answer is packaging.

    Research suggests that 76 to 82 percent of shoppers make in-store decisions when purchasing products. These impulse purchases could very well be influenced by the product’s box or label, as one-third of consumer decision making is actually influenced by the product’s packaging.

    Specialty Coatings on the Rise

    If you’re in flexographic, cardboard/corrugated, or label printing industries (or just a typical shopper), you’ve probably already noticed that many brands have begun to utilize specialty printing to make their products stand out and catch the consumer’s eye.

    No longer are glossy coatings enough to outshine the other items in the marketplace. Packages now feature effects like glitter, metallic and pearl coatings, and contrasting matte/gloss finishes.

    For printers, these specialty coatings can present a unique set of challenges. Many presses aren’t equipped to handle these coatings in one pass, and when multiple passes are required, costs are higher and the time needed complete projects increases.

    Unfortunately, this multiple pass process also increases the impact that any print defects can have on your bottom line. It can lead to product rejects, wasted resources, and wasted time.

    Managing Variables in Specialty Coating Processes

    How can you alleviate the risk in your printing process and deliver the eye-catching packaging that will set your client’s product apart?

    A good place to start is by managing the variables that you can control. By adequately controlling the following components of your printing process, you can reduce waste, minimize the amount of resources used, and deliver quality print packaging products on every run:

    Viscosity: The viscosity of your ink will impact many aspects of your printing process. Viscosity will affect print strength, color quality, sharpness, and drying speed, so it is imperative to closely monitor and maintain viscosity within a set range in order to deliver consistent ink performance and print quality.

    By controlling viscosity with Zahn cups or more effectively through automated viscometers, printers are able to reduce setup waste, conserve ink and solvent resources, and ensure uniform application of ink.

    Temperature: As ink travels from the drum to the point of application, there is a chance that it could heat up or cool down, which will alter the viscosity and lead to color quality, sharpness, and drying issues.

    Changes in outdoor temperature can also affect viscosity. Think about it: ink that is exposed to a 65-degree ambient temperature on a summer morning will perform differently when that temperature jumps to 90 degrees in the afternoon.

    Sure, you can add solvents or other additives to maintain the optimal viscosity, but that increases operating costs and isn’t as sustainable. Installing a temperature control system for your press can reduce solvent costs and ensure your ink viscosity (and print quality) remains consistent.

    pH: The pH level of ink has a significant effect on how well ink is absorbed and how well it dries, particularly when using water-based inks in corrugated printing processes. Most inks have pH specifications that fall between 8.5 and 9.5. If the pH drops below 8.5, the viscosity will go up, the ink can dry too quickly on plates and anilox, small-type prints can appear “dirty,” and your press will be more difficult to clean after a run.

    When the ink’s pH is higher than 9.5, the ink will dry more slowly, the printed box will have less scuff resistance, and light colors and tints may appear burnt out. To get your ink back in the proper pH range, add a pH adjuster if the pH measurement is low, and add fresh ink to lower the pH if the reading is too high.

    It is also important to sequence the pH of inks form high to low if printing more than one color in line. If your setup isn’t sequenced in this way, your finished product could fall victim to tracking and smearing issues.

    Anilox roll: The anilox roll is the heart of your printing process, and often represents a significant investment. Regular cleaning and inspection can protect against damage or defects, prolong the life of the anilox roll, and ensure your print jobs aren’t impacted by dirty or blemished rolls.

    In addition to adequate cleaning and maintenance, proper setting of steel doctor blades to shear ink from the face of the roll can help to preserve the quality and function of the anilox roll.

    Keep a close eye on these facets of your printing process and you’ll be able to more effectively manage the risks and costs associated with specialty prints and coatings. And as this packaging will help products fly off the shelf, you’ll surely see more repeat business from satisfied clients!

    Looking for ways to improve the quality of your flexographic prints? Get your free copy of our Flexographic Troubleshooting Guide to help identify common flexographic problems and the solutions that can help deliver reliable, repeatable results.

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    Topics: paint and coating

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